Lawns & Landscapes

You want to make your lawns and landscapes — the places where your children play and your vegetables grow — as safe as possible. We provide the information, and practical experience, to help you do it.

Share tips and ask questions over at our Lawns and Landscape Forum. Because, the grass doesn’t always have to grow greener next door!

Bees, Butterflies Both Battling Demise

Protect our PollinatorsPesticide use may leave us a world without pollinators.

With good news comes bad. Preliminary reports from the winter of 2013-2014 gathered by the Department of Agriculture and the Bee Informed Partnership have found that loss of honey bee colonies from all causes was 23.2%, down from 30.5% the previous winter. For the full 12 months — April 2013 to April 2014 — the 7,183 beekeepers who responded to the survey reported losing 34.2% of their 670,568 colonies.

The full report can be found here.

How is this good news? The 23.2% figure is well below the 8-year average total loss of 29.6% and much less than the 36% loss suffered in 2007-2008. But hopes that bee colony collapse numbers have turned a corner are premature. (more…)

Healthy Yards, Healthy People, Healthy Planet

Healthy Kids, Healthy LawnThe movement to take the poisons from our lawns is growing.

We love this time of year when the grass is coming up thick and green and we need to mow almost once a week. But it’s also the time of year when we’re assaulted by lawn care companies wanting us to sign up for a full season’s worth of care. What’s that care consist of? Why spraying fertilizer and herbicide, of course.

Now we’ve addressed using harmful chemicals on our lawns before. And we still think that a good solution, especially where saving water is important (and that’s a lot of places these days), is to plant a xeric, drought-tolerant lawn. But lawns are wonderful things, certainly for those of us who have families. They are the places our children play, where our pets roam, where we gather with friends and relatives to recreate or just enjoy the solace of being outdoors. We want them to be as safe as possible. (more…)

Last Call for Planting Fruit Trees

Planting Fruit TreesApple, peach, cherry, plums and others planted now can provide a lifetime of rewards.

In a practice — raising one’s own food — that’s full of satisfying activity, there’s little as satisfying as planting fruit trees. Fruit trees planted this season will, in a few years, provide us a lifetime of nourishing harvests, harvests that we will enjoy with our children, harvest that, with the right care of our trees, will nourish their children as well. And there’s hardly a more joyful experience than picking a ripe plum or peach or apple or handful of cherries and enjoying them right there in the shade of your own orchard. (more…)

Herbicide Found In Mother’s Milk

Baby Girl SleepingDoes America’s most-used weed killer endanger infants?

A recent study has found that the herbicide glyphosate, sold under the trade name Roundup (and others), is present in alarming levels in breast milk of American females. The study found that samples of mother’s milk from women in the United States contained levels of the weed-killer that were 760 to 1,600 time greater than the amount of pesticides allowed by the European Water Directive. Those levels are still less than the 700 ug/l maximum contaminant level (MCL) that the Environmental Protection Agency has decided is safe.

The findings are sure to be controversial. The EPA contamination level was decided on the much-challenged assumption that glyphosate was excreted and did not accumulate in the human body. Those non-accumulation findings were based on studies sponsored by, among others, Monsanto, the maker of Roundup. (more…)

Learning To Love Moss

MossEasy to grow and care for, moss can make green carpets under shade trees, provide color and texture to rock gardens, or replace entire lawns.

Moss is most often seen as a problem, not a solution. It’s been called “one of the most persistent and annoying weeds” that occurs in home lawns.” Moss is a weed? I guess you can see it that way if it’s taking over from turf beneath trees or in other shaded and usually moist areas. Getting rid of moss often means improving soil, making it more favorable to growing grass. Just raking out patches of moss won’t eradicate it. Unless grass will take over, moss will come back. And creating the conditions for grass to grow where moss has grown before, can mean everything from working the soil to improving drainage, adjusting pH, even pruning or chopping down trees.

Might it be better just to learn to live with moss?

Not surprisingly, moss’ negative reputation is changing as more and more people discover its use as an alternative to a grass lawn. For one thing, you don’t have to mow it. And you don’t have to weed it (or spray it with herbicide). Moss grows so tightly that weeds don’t stand a chance. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to water it if you live somewhere with moderate precipitation. It may turn yellow or brown between rains but will green up with even just a drizzle. And it will grow in sunlight, though it may not be suitable for a yard in a sunny climate that doesn’t have a bit of shade. (more…)

Organic Lawn Care 101 – Lawn Maintenance

Lawn CareThe Grass is Greener … and Safer!

Lawns may have been invented in Europe, but they’ve reached their apotheosis in North America. For those in the U.S. of A, that green, green grass ranks right up there with apple pie, backyard barbecues and softball. For Canadians it’s proof of place, both a responsibility and a privilege, like wearing decent clothes when you leave the house. Keep your teeth clean and your grass green. In the lower 48 states and much of southern Canada, grass is practically an obsession.

The problem with the perfect lawn is that it wreaks havoc on both your wallet and the environment. Between 30 and 40 million acres of land in the U.S. are devoted to turfgrass (see Curbing the Lawn), and Americans collectively spend big bucks — about $40 billion annually — on seed, sod and chemicals. In Canada, which has around one tenth the population of the U.S., sales from all lawn care products have risen steadily over the past five years, to over $2 billion by 2007. (more…)

Facing Drought

Drought in the GardenWhat should gardeners do in the face of water shortages?

We don’t have to tell you. The news from many parts of the west is all about drought. You can find accounts of what’s being faced, including the potential for cutbacks and rationing, here, here, and here. And the forecast for the coming months doesn’t look good.

No matter if you believe that drought is just a part of the natural cycle (it is) or is a product of global warming (we don’t see this as an easy either-or question but think both factors could be in play), dealing with a lack of or more expensive water is something that gardeners frequently face. Even as a back-to-the-land, ex-hippie in the 19(garbled) living on the edge of the rain forest in Washington State we had summer months without rain some years that meant the buried reservoir that collected water from our spring filled more slowly and even ran dry when we watered our rather large garden. That’s the problem with water: you run out just when you need it most. (more…)

Preventing, Curing Gray Snow Mold

Lawn DiseaseKeeping lawns exposed to wet springs and slowly melting snow from falling to disease.

The vagaries of climate variation across the country this winter suggests that we might be seeing the dreaded gray snow mold surface in lawns where it hasn’t been seen before. Those of us familiar with late snow covers, cold, damp springs, and other conditions favorable to lawn diseases are well familiar with this problem.

Gray snow mold is a common problem in areas where snow cover persists into the spring as temperatures warm. It shows itself in circular or irregularly shaped gray or brown spots in the lawn that can range from an inch or two across to over a foot or more. Fuzzy gray strings, known as mycelia, may stretch across and out from the area, especially as the snow melts away. (more…)

Water Purity and Organic Gardening

Watering the GardenThe small things we do to keep pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals out of our water supply.

The recent events in West Virginia have us thinking about water. In the meantime, we keep up on the situation, with help from Ken Ward Jr.’s excellent reporting at the West Virginia Gazette.

We do our bit in protecting water resources, foregoing chemical fertilizers and pesticides in our home space, keeping them out of the soil, keeping them from running off to streets and storm drains. Most of the benefit comes right on the ground where we live — the knowledge that the fruits and vegetables we grow, the yard where our children play, both are free of potentially harmful chemicals. But we also like to think of ourselves as making a contribution to overall water purity. An event like the one in West Virginia — the drinking water for some 300,00 people poisoned — makes us realize how small our backyard contribution is against massive spills on the commercial level.

We want clean, safe water coming into our homes and going into our gardens. The West Virginia incident shows us just how vulnerable and fragile our water resources are. Safe supplies of water have long been a global issue. Adequate supplies and water rights have long been a fixture in the U.S. Always an issue in the West, water rights and distribution are sparking battles between states and various interests. (more…)

New Year News

News FlashGMOs questioned, labeling laws, xeric grass, and the popularity of gardening.

– In Europe, the number of scientists and other experts contesting EU chief science adviser Anne Glover’s statement that genetically modified foods are no less risky than conventional, natural grown foods continues to grow. Over 275 specialists have signed a document that states that GM foods have not been proven safe and that existing research raises concerns, according to GM Watch, a European organization that monitors and reports on issues relating to genetically manipulated food sources.

Dr Angelika Hilbeck, chair of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), which published the statement, told GM Watch, “We’re surprised and pleased by the strong support for the statement. It seems to have tapped into a deep concern in the global scientific community that the name of science is being misused to make misleading claims about the safety of GM technology.” (more…)

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